From CEDO to Ocean Star!
As we drive down the east side of the Sea of Cortez I can’t help but notice how different the east shore is from the west shore. The west side of the sea on the Baja peninsula is sandwiched between coastal waters and rusty mountains. As for the east side, instead of majestic mountains there are vast stretches of desert spotted with cactus and brush with segmented rocky ranges peaking through the distant haze.
Continuing south is the town of Puerto Peñasco, which is where the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) is. This amazing organization is situated between the desert and the sea where researchers and tourists from all over the world come to visit and learn about this region. CEDO so kindly hosted us at their facility, allowing us to conduct interviews with their staff whilst absorbing all the natural history of the area. CEDO possess a full skeleton of a vaquita that was found in Mexico in 1988. Although nothing is more precious than witnessing a living vaquita swimming in its natural habitat, the skeleton was a unique opportunity to get a visual of the animal’s internal structure. During our stay there we learned a great deal about CEDO’s long role in vaquita conservation and outreach.
Our mission in Puerto Peñasco was to find local fishermen that lived outside of the Biosphere Reserve and listen how the gillnet ban is impacting their community even though gillnets are permitted in their region. We found several fisherman that strongly wanted to be heard and we were invited to an afternoon feast of local fish and conversation. The strongest argument that was made was that fishermen from the “gillnet ban zone” are traveling south to fish just outside the Biosphere Reserve where gillnets are permitted. These actions have created a tense environment as towns like Puerto Peñasco are threatened by this competition knowing that the fishermen from the north are invading their region, while still being compensated through the buy-out program. Puerto Peñasco fisherman are excluded from the compensation program because they are outside of the Biosphere Reserve, however they have attempted to further discuss the issue with the government, and claim they are being ignored.
We were also very fortunate to have met up with artist Guillermo Munro Colosio aka Memuco who happens to reside in Puerto Peñasco. He and his family so generously opened up their home to us where he shared his spectacular portfolio that illustrates the fusion of art and the natural world. His works are inspired by wildlife and his mission is to create powerful images of threatened and endangered species infused with his symbolic figure “The Silent One”. The Silent One is the daughter of “La Catrina”, Mexico’s lady of death and “el Nahual”, a Mesoamerican mythological creature who can turn himself into any animal form. Memuco art is another wonderful example of the symbiotic relationship between art and science and when combined they can convey an influential message that bonds to those that view his images.
Recently we arrived in San Felipe to board the Ocean Star for the final week of the Expedición Internacional Vaquita Marina 2015. Here the Wild Lens crew separated to cover more ground, with Brenda and Joey staying on shore to interview local fishermen as well as Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico Director General while I board the Ocean Star.
Quite conveniently, the day I boarded the Ocean Star was “Fishermen’s Day” – an organized event that invited fishermen from the Upper Gulf to board the OS to meet the scientists conducting the survey and hopefully see a vaquita. Most of the fishing cooperative leaders attended this event and were fortunate to have witnessed a vaquita sighting, which was quite an exciting moment for everyone. Many people in the Upper Gulf, including lots of fishermen, do not believe that the vaquita exists and some believe that this entire vaquita conservation effort is a hoax. It is really difficult to understand these perceptions as there is strong data and visual evidence that vaquita do actually exist. Nonetheless, several fishermen who witnessed the vaquita sighting stated that they are now believers, but this does not mean that all the other issues are resolved. As I have said before, there are a lot of lives involved in this issue and it is difficult for everyone to swallow everything at once. Despite the sluggish pace of progress we must remain hopeful because that is what will help the vaquita survive.
Tags: CEDO, endangered vaquita, gill net ban, gill net fisherman, NOAA vaquita, Ocean Star, Puerto Penasco, Puerto Peñasco wildlife, San Felipe fisherman, save the vaquita, Vaquita, vaquita conversation, vaquita recovery, vaquita research, vaquita skeleton, vaquita survey